Charles Nankervis

Charlie Nankervis.

Charles Nankervis was 74 years old when he was chosen to raise the new National Coal Board flag at Water Haigh at its “Vesting Day” ceremony on Saturday 4 January 1947. 

He had started working for Henry Briggs Son & Company Limited at their older Whitwood pit in 1886 when he was 13 years old and transferred to Water Haigh in January 1911, shortly after it opened. With 61 years service he was reported to be the company’s longest serving worker. Up until 1948, when the state pension and retirement age of 65 were introduced, many men like Charlie, as he was known, continued to work well into their seventies. 

In an interview with the Wakefield Express he claimed to have only “laiked” for one day in the 30 or so years since the First World War and that was for a “twisted” back. He probably started work as a pony driver hauling coal underground at Whitwood but by the age of 18 was a blacksmith’s striker. He later became a hewer. As an old man he was employed as an onsetter loading tubs of coal into the mine cage at the pit bottom and sending signals to the winding engineer on the surface.

Charlie’s father, Thomas Nankervis, was a farmer’s son from Rosewall near St. Ives in Cornwall. He had joined his brother as a tin miner at Rosewall Hill but with the decline of the industry in the late 1870s had brought his wife, Patience, their daughter, also called Patience, and Charlie to Yorkshire where he became a coal miner. They lived at Normanton Road in Whitwood. A third child, Henry, was born there in December 1880 but died when he was only nine months old.  

Charlie Nankervis would have been very familiar with this scene. The path in the foreground led to an isolated building for storing gunpowder used in shot firing underground.

Thomas Nankervis was 39 when he died in 1886. A couple of years later his widow remarried an Irish miner from Sligo, James Haley, and was living with him along with a new baby girl, Patience and Charlie, at The Square in Whitwood when the census was taken in 1891.

When he was 23 Charlie married miner’s daughter Caroline Beecher and moved to Mill Lane. Their first child, Ada, was born in 1899 followed in 1901 by Mary Ellen who was baptised at the Wesleyan chapel in Whitwood. Sadly she too passed away when she was just 4 years old.

By the time Charlie and Caroline moved to Beecroft Yard in Woodlesford they had two more daughters, Linda and Evelyn. Later they had two sons, Thomas in 1913 and finally Charles William in 1921. 

In his 1947 newspaper interview Charlie told the reporter his “recipe” for a long life was plenty of hard work and “rough” food. He still enjoyed good health, had a full head of hair and good teeth. He scorned the idea of wearing glasses. “I tumble down when I wear them,” he said. 

He was always early for work and couldn’t remember being late. As the new nationalised coal industry was being established the miners were urged to increase productivity with each pit being given weekly targets. Absenteeism was a hot topic and Charlie declared: “I’ve nowt to say; people know whether they want to work or not.”

Probably tongue in cheek he recalled the days when he’d spent “two fortunes” at Blackpool, “one of nine pence and the other of six pence!” As a boy on holiday he’d spent his first six pence of pocket money on donkey rides.

The Nankervis family lived in the houses nearest to the camera on Pepper Street in Hunslet. (More photos at

At some point the family moved to 10 Pepper Street in Hunslet but Charlie was adamant his sons wouldn’t follow him into mining. Charles William became a “French” furniture polisher in Wakefield and Thomas also had a business there. Thomas later emigrated to Australia. At the start of the Second World War Evelyn was an inspector in a naval ordnance factory at Sheffield.

Charlie Nankervis was 83 when he died in 1956.

A view of the screens at Water Haigh.